Rather than being titillating, Bateman wanted the painting to ask questions about the sexualisation of women today. She has written: "At the age of 34, I am comfortable in my own body." Her pose is not provocative: she leans against a blue background, one hand behind her back. Significantly, she is staring back at the viewer. This is a mark of power.
A classic example of the unequal relationship between artist and subject is Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (1510), which is credited as the first painting in western art to depict a nude as the main focal point. While the beauty of Venus is celebrated, she is reclining, passive - indeed asleep. It is a work of highbrow erotica.
In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing,
The muse was the classical equivalent of the contemporary manic pixie dream girl, the stock
Bateman is her own muse. She has written: "Rather than a sexualised pose, the artist and I worked together to identify a stance that was natural and comfortable. In fact, the pose we decided upon was inherently unflattering."
The nudes that dominate the popular imagination these days do not appear in paintings, however, but in visual media. And the contemporary "nude" par excellence has to be
In her recent music video, Partition, she lies on a stage in a strip club, filmed from above, her body barely covered by black lingerie. In another shot, she swings around a pole, her husband Jay-Z playing the pimp and watching her. She manages to embody several seemingly contradictory feminine roles: she is sex siren and glowing wife and mother. She is a kind of pornographic saint.
Moreover, it is
Bateman, too, is in control. It is significant that she asserted how she wanted to be seen and, unlike the nameless muse of art history, she is named, and her professional status made clear, on a plaque that accompanies the painting. She points out that "people are often shocked when they realise that the naked image before them is an intelligent woman".
However, Bateman's painting is not revolutionary, in my view. The fact that a
This reveals more about
In 1964, the American feminist artist
If a painting can be scandalous today simply because it shows a woman in a pose that does not invite sex, we truly have gone back in time. Thankfully the new wave of feminism is coming to change that.
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